February 16, 2018

Friday after Ash Wednesday

But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’ Mark 14:6-9


It’s not that taking care of the poor is no longer important. This obligation will always be important. But time and context are everything. The context is that in Mark’s gospel, every moment is precious and ever since his baptism in the river Jordan, Jesus has been on the path that leads straight to Jerusalem and the cross. And the time has finally come for Jesus to complete his work on the cross. The backdrop is in the shadow of the Temple during the annual Passover festival. As this unknown woman bathes Jesus’ feet with an expensive ointment of nard, there were many looking on questioning the wisdom of wasting such resources in light of our obligation to the poor.

During Lent, we Christians are challenged to make choices and take on disciplines that will help us come closer to God. Many embark on a fast; a fast of alcohol, or maybe screen time, or some other things that get in the way of a holy relationship with God. As we shed ourselves of these bad habits and unhealthy wants, we make space for God to enter. Similarly, others decide to take on a discipline. The aim is not the mortification of the flesh, but rather to take on the healthy habits that lead to a stronger relationship with God. Remember, time and context are everything. Our context is a busy life as a Christian in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. The time is Lent. The time is now. The question is, will we watch and judge as the world does? Or, this Lent, will we take the time to make room for God in our busy lives?


A Prayer for Self-Dedication
Make us channels of your grace, O Lord, that our wills may conform to your will and our choices reflect your love to your people; so that your law may be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
taken from A Time to Pray, compiled by George Cobbett


The Rev. Joseph K. Smith
Saint Mary’s, Wayne

Piety in an Impious Age

The Challenge and Opportunity of Lent

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, the priest invites the congregation “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” There was a time when the Church took this invitation very seriously. We saw in Lent an opportunity to reclaim our faith in practical ways. This inclination has become less common. In 2014, the Barna group discovered that while 72 percent of U.S. adults were “aware” of Lent, only 17 percent planned to observe it in any meaningful way. There are probably many reasons for this loss of interest in Lent. For one, we are so obsessed with the idea of self-improvement that the central conceit of the season, that we are wholly dependent on God’s grace, seems irrelevant to us. Thus, for many of us, Lenten disciplines have become “New Year’s Resolutions 2.0,” a chance to recommit to whatever self-improvement scheme we abandoned during the doldrums of January instead of an opportunity to recommit to our faith. Perhaps more significantly, we live in a culture that regards any spiritual practice skeptically. By our society’s standards, the idea of devoting ourselves to prayer or the study of Scripture feels like a waste of time. All of this begs the question: why should we heed the invitation to a “holy Lent”? What does it mean to read and meditate on God’s holy word and engage in prayer, fasting, and self-denial in our increasingly secular society?

Il_Pordenone_-_San_Marco_-_BudapestThe answer to these questions can be found in the gospel according to Mark. Once considered the “black sheep” among the evangelists, Mark has undergone something of a renaissance over the past few decades. Historically, scholars dismissed the shortest gospel because it appears to be a mere summary of its counterparts. Recently, however, Christians have begun to rediscover the distinctive and eloquent witness of Mark’s gospel. No longer considered a “black sheep,” Mark has taken his rightful place as one of the true geniuses of the Christian canon. The gospel according to Mark provides a unique and riveting account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More importantly, it speaks powerfully to today’s Church. More than any other evangelist, Mark’s gospel is suffused with a profound awareness that the good news of Jesus Christ represents a significant disruption of the status quo. Moreover, the gospel according to Mark challenges us to live lives shaped by what God has accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Like Mark’s gospel, Lent disrupts and challenges us. It forces us out of our self-centered, impatient routines and invites us to look at the world in a new way. In this spirit, the Merion Deanery will be using the season of Lent to explore the ways the gospel according to Mark speaks to us today. Every day, one of the clergy of the Deanery will offer a reflection on an excerpt from the Passion Narrative in Mark’s gospel. These meditations on the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion and death will help us appreciate the gospel’s true power. Indeed, these reflections will reveal that heeding the invitation to a “holy Lent” can transform our experience of the world. We hope you will make this journey through Mark’s Passion part of your Lenten discipline and consider how this holy season and Mark’s unique perspective can shape our lives of faith.